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KATIE ZERR: Tragedies have big impacts on smaller communities

Do tragedies impact smaller communities on a higher level than in larger communities?
Compared to earthquakes, fires or mass casualty incidents, accidents involving a few people are not big news. But in smaller communities, the impact may be more intense.
It is days like Tuesday that make this job extremely difficult. We are taught to keep our emotions out of our way when we are working on a news story. That is very difficult when the people involved are people you know. They are somebody’s mother or father, somebody’s grandmother or uncle. They may be our neighbors or friends.
The impact of something like the Tuesday’s accidents has a noticeable impact on a community the size of Mobridge. We feel it in the air, we hear it on the street. Thanks to social media everyone knows long before officials release information.
In towns like Mobirdge, people will be hugging others to try to soothe raw feelings. We will grasp hands to let others know we too feel the hit of losing someone we know.
In communities like Mobridge, people will band together to help the families impacted get through the aftermath of these incidents.
We lost three area residents in the past two weeks. Long-time Campbell County resident Ernie Fjeldheim was killed in an accident on July 3. Anyone from the area who knew Ernie has a story about him. He always had a smile and comment or two whenever our paths crossed.
Jim Vanderwal, the mail carrier who died on Tuesday, while doing his job, was originally from Pollock. Although I didn’t know him personally, I know the communities of Pollock and Mobridge are mourning the loss a of life too soon.
Trudy Peterson was someone a lot of people in this community knew. We know her family. Many of us called her a friend.
When a small community like Mobridge, Pollock or Mound City is hit with tragedy such as these, it is like a sucker punch to the gut.
Through the years, I have sat behind this keyboard and written stories about people I have known all of my life or had gotten to know when I returned to Mobridge some 25 years ago.
It doesn’t get any easier. There have been times I am alone at the office on late Tuesday, when I am overwhelmed by the emotion of losing yet another person I know and having to write a story about them without letting my feelings come through.
Several come to mind, Nard Spiry, Denny Palmer, Dan Figuracion. These people I called my friends that I had to write news stories about, trying to keep myself together and keeping my emotions out of it.
One of the most difficult times was several years ago when our community lost three young lives in succession, two through suicide and one in an accident. I remember thinking I hated my job on those days.
As difficult as it is, my role in these stories is so minute when it comes to the big picture. I am certainly not looking for sympathy. It is the families, the friends, the community that suffer the impact of a sudden loss of a loved one.
Think about the police and the first responders of small communities who are on the front lines of these tragedies and the impact it has on their lives. We sit on the sidelines and grieve while they do their jobs, often involving friends of theirs. They have to put aside all emotions when it comes to doing their jobs. How difficult that must be.
As I wrote the story of yesterday’s accidents, my mind kept wandering to Trudy’s family and the agony of waiting. I thought about some of those officers, first responders and ambulance personal who knew the missing. I had a conversation with a member of the Standing Rock Tribe who said those missing were people he saw and acknowledged driving that road nearly every day.
He was heartbroken that they would no longer be the small part of his daily life that they have been for several years.
We are a small community with connections to our neighbors. Sometimes these connections may seem small, but the impact of missing that connection is large